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Oregon Medical Marijuana Program Is A Failure…But Not For The Reason You Think


oregon medical cannabisThe Oregon Medical Marijuana Program Was Created To Help Suffering Patients, Not Fuel Reefer Madness Propaganda

In 1998, the people of Oregon passed Measure 67, known as the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act. In its text is found the following phrase:

The people of the state of Oregon hereby find that [p]atients and doctors have found marijuana to be an effective treatment for suffering caused by debilitating medical conditions, and therefore, marijuana should be treated like other medicines.

If that is true, then the people of the state of Oregon have failed miserably, for marijuana is the only medicine in the state where providing more people with an effective treatment for suffering is considered “abuse”.  No other medicine is treated that way.

The Albany Democrat-Herald warns, “The number of cardholders has boomed… to more than 54,000… It’s possible that every one of those cardholders is legitimately using the drug to treat issues such as chronic pain. But it seems far more likely that abuse of the program is one of the reasons fueling the program’s explosive growth.”  The state’s largest paper, The Oregonian, intones, “The program was designed as a modest one, generating 500 new patients each year,” as if that were a fact.

oregon medical marijuana program statisticsIn the 1998 election guide provided to voters on Measure 67, there were the usual arguments for and against the measure.  Among the patients speaking out for the measure was Stormy Ray, a quadriplegic.  She explained, “I am not alone. There are thousands of patients like me- people suffering from cancer, AIDS, glaucoma, epilepsy, and a host of other diseases or illnesses that threaten their lives.”  The New England Journal of Medicine explained, “Thousands of patients with cancer, AIDS, and other diseases report they have obtained striking relief from these devastating symptoms by smoking marijuana.”

Opponents of medical marijuana like to pretend that we had only intended its use for cancer, AIDS, and glaucoma, and that we had used sympathy for those conditions to sneak everyone else in under the “difficult to prove” diagnosis of severe pain.  As The Oregonian‘s editorial board recently opined:

As of Oct. 1, there were nearly 57,000 card-holders in the state’s medical marijuana program, of whom fewer than 4,000 combined suffer from cancer, HIV/AIDS or glaucoma: three of the conditions most commonly cited by Measure 67-s supporters.

oregon medical marijuana program statisticsThat seems to me like The Oregonian accepts the use of marijuana for cancer, HIV/AIDS and glaucoma, so there are at least 3,929 legitimate patients.  If the program were designed for 500 per year, there would be 6,500 to 7,000 legitimate patients now in The Oregonian‘s estimation.

So what do opponents make of the 15,211 patients with muscle spasms, like multiple sclerosis?  Are those people “abusing” the medical marijuana program?  How about the 1,425 patients with seizures, like epilepsy?  Are they “faking it” just so they can get a medical marijuana card?  Assuming those people would pass “legitimacy test”, we’re talking about 20,565 patients when we add them to the cancer, HIV/AIDS, and glaucoma patients.  Back in 2008, The Oregonian was complaining when the registry went above 20,000!

The most frequently cited qualifying medical condition — and perhaps the most difficult to disprove — is severe pain, claimed by 55,400 of those roughly 57,000 card-holders (people can cite more than one condition).

oregon medical marijuana program statisticsThis is a trick the opponents like to play where they fool you into thinking very few people are getting medical marijuana for “real conditions” and most are faking it with “severe pain”.  Never mind that severe pain has to be indicated in chart notes by a medical doctor on three separate occasions within the past three years in order to qualify.

Sure, 55,400 patients – over 97% of the registry – are qualified for pain.  But that little parenthetical note about citing more than one condition is important.  If there are 56,939 patients and 55,400 cite pain, then there are at least 1,539 qualified who do not cite pain.

But there are 30,060 conditions qualified for other than pain, 15,211 for spasticity disorders alone.  Do you think multiple sclerosis might cause some severe pain?  How about cancer, HIV/AIDS, and glaucoma?  If the non-pain patients are also claiming severe pain as a qualifying condition, then the fewest possible patients there could be qualifying under severe pain alone would be 26,879, or 47% of those in the program.


However, that’s not entirely fair.  Someone with cancer, for instance, would probably indicate nausea and cachexia in addition to severe pain.  So, if every non-pain patient were also claiming another condition in addition to severe pain, the most possible “pain only” patients would be 41,728, or 73% of those registered.

oregon medical marijuana program statisticsThe scare tactic about how many pain patients there are is not the only absurdity – the idea that there are too many medical marijuana patients, period, is absurd, when you consider how many Oregonians could qualify for medical marijuana but do not register.

For cancer alone, Oregon’s State Cancer Registry indicates 19,861 diagnoses in the state. There are 5,231 living with HIV/AIDS.  When you consider national estimates for diseases like GlaucomaMultiple SclerosisParkinson’sALS (Lou Gehrig’s)Cerebral PalsyHereditary Spastic Paraplegia, Primary Lateral Sclerosis, and Epilepsy - which is just a partial list of some of the non-pain qualifying conditions – there are 224,980 Oregonians who could qualify and only 30,060 (at most) have registered.

Then there’s severe pain.  According to the Institute of Medicine, Committee on Advancing Pain Research, Care, and Education, 100 million Americans are burdened with chronic pain (a more stringent diagnosis than severe pain).  That works out to over 1.2 million Oregonians who could benefit from medical cannabis, while only 55,400 have registered for medical marijuana.

What keeps these Oregonians from utilizing this “effective treatment for suffering caused by debilitating medical conditions”?  Certainly start-up costs around $1,000 don’t encourage people to try medical marijuana.  The federal prohibition doesn’t soothe any fears.  But certainly the state’s major media toeing the law enforcement line on the myth of medical marijuana abuse isn’t helping.

When the medical marijuana program is treating only less than 6% of the potential conditions it could alleviate, it is an indictment of the state’s failure to protect and serve its most vulnerable citizens.  It is a failure that can only be corrected by the legalization of marijuana for healthy people so there remains no legal, social and cultural barriers for the sick and disabled.

Republished with special permission from the National Cannabis Coalition. This article originally appeared on RadicalRuss.Com.


About Author

Executive Director: Russ Belville has been active in Oregon marijuana reform since 2005, when he was elected second-in-command of the state affiliate, Oregon NORML. After four years with Oregon NORML, Russ was hired by National NORML in 2009, working as Outreach Coordinator and hosting the NORML Daily Audio Stash podcast until 2012. Since then, Russ launched the 420RADIO marijuana legalization network and is the host of The Russ Belville Show, a live daily marijuana news talk radio program. Russ is also a prolific writer, with over 300 articles posted online and in print in HIGH TIMES, Huffington Post, Alternet, The Weed Blog, Marijuana Politics, and more.


  1. I know this is over a year old but the deception goes on.
    I have been active in this program since 2002
    Oregon does not have a legitimate medical marijuana program.
    Just the contrary.
    It is rife with abuse to wit an average of 75% of registered card holders now have no real medical need for the herb.
    It is a means to an end.
    Full of Gangsters, Tweakers, Militia using the production to further nefarious means. and simpletons bent on perpetuating a scam on the public, their families and friends.
    It is not operating toward a compassionate treatment of pain, and is being used to supplement the income of many who just don’t want any part of anything.
    It is a free for all with the most devastating example of sociopathic behavior I personally have ever seen.
    The war is not now being waged on drugs. It is being waged on the minds and spirits of the public who have been duped into thinking that helping others won’t be subverted by the very personnage we are trying to remove it’s control from.’I wont post anymore but stop deluding yourself and others.
    legalization is the only way to stop this abuse.
    Nothing short.
    Any one who fights the legalization, for any reason, has some form of agenda that will be thwarted by legalization and affect their bottom line.,
    Wise Up

  2. It was excellent and very informative. As a first time visitor to your blog I am very impressed. I found a lot of informative stuff in your article. Thanks for posting.

  3. There are a lot of people without insurance. Marijuana has recieved a bad reputation. I sure wish the people who know the weed business would draw up an Amendment that would be by the people and for the people. The Constitution and cannabis would make a great marriage.

  4. These prohibitionist will do anything to bolster the statistics , with legalization measures in 3 sates,MMJ IN 16 , They are panicking,
    Preventive Medicine! Cal prop 215 clearly states :”for any illness” yet the media reports “widespread abuse”
    The abuse is really at the hands of LEO , they have taken advantage of Drug laws to include cannabis in the War on otherwise law abiding citizens.That party is coming to an end.
    Saying people abuse something to further a political agenda is typical , lost memos, misplaced votes, every trick in the book.
    Statistics show that 55,ooo people use medicinal Cannabis legally , when is the government going to acknowledge that this is what the people wanted and 55.000
    people feel the need to be protected from outdated drug laws by getting a card so they can not worry about being arrested.
    I would even stick my neck out and say 90% of the 55k have had no contact with LEO other than possession/cultivation.
    My last observation if these naysayers can tell whats wrong with a person by looking at them leaving a cannabis shop , wow we dont need Drs anymore or cat-scans we have EYES that can see things like MS . Leukemia,epilepsy, cataracts and people picking up cannabis for bedridden people!
    What will it take for LEO to just let it be.Leave providers and patients alone?
    Cant we just opt out? I opted out a long time ago.

  5. I really just dont understand why the general concensus is thay someone need be terminally ill to use this plant legitimately. If it helps you sleep better or improves the quality of your life to any degree why should you not have access to it? Why do supporters of medical mj even argue the point. It just lends validity to it. What should be the argument is that the plant should not be restricted to only the very ill because you need not be severly ill to benefit from the plant. It helps me on several fronts to live a more enjoyable life why should i even have to defend my use? If im not dying im part of the “bad guys”? Ridiculous.

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